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Exercising your new puppy

Beginning to think about physical activity with your puppy is an excellent start to promoting a long and healthy life for your dog! Exercise has many advantages, similar to those in humans, such as helping control weight, and dogs love it! However, we must always be careful when exercising a puppy – they have not yet fully developed, and we can actually harm them with too much exercise and the wrong kinds of exercise.

What is ‘forced exercise’?  Forced exercise is anything beyond what the puppy would do when playing with dogs of the same age. For example, a 4-month-old dog running for a mile (or less!) with adult dogs would be considered forced exercise. Similarly, running with people is forced exercise, as is excessive stick/ball-chasing. Puppies that are several months old have enough energy to keep up with a person that is jogging, but do not yet have the brains to know when to stop! They will often keep going until they drop.  Let the puppy set the pace and the distance – avoid forced exercise in puppies.

Why do we avoid forced exercise in puppies? Puppy’s bones and joints are developing rapidly. Excessive force on these structures can result in damage, often irreversible with repercussions leading into their adult lives. For puppies that may already have underlying orthopedic problems (such as hip dysplasia), forced exercise as a puppy will make the conditions worse and the disease more severe. Large and giant breeds typically continue to develop past one year old, whereas smaller breed dogs are often skeletally mature by 8 months old. A good rule of thumb is to avoid forced exercise for the first 8 months, and perhaps the first 12 months in large breed dogs.

Swimming and walking are good low-impact exercises that are typically very good exercise for puppies.Remember to make sure your puppy has all of his or her recommended vaccines before taking it to the dog park, or for a walk around the neighbourhood, where it can potentially pick up viruses or bacteria from other dogs or the environment!